By Leslie Turner
Who can you trust these days? Gallup released the results of an interesting poll this past December where they posed the question, “Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields.” Members of Congress were at the bottom with only 10% of respondents assigning a “very high” rating, sandwiched between car salesmen and advertising agencies. College teachers were much closer to the top, holding fairly steady from previous years at 53%, just barely edging out members of the clergy and right below police officers.
Any financial aid professional can assure you that the financial aid office has not fared as well in the public eye. As far as the public is concerned you can always find the villain if you just follow the money, right? And the financial aid office makes an excellent scapegoat: interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans threaten to double each year, poor student persistence is viewed as a financial aid problem despite shrinking grant funds, mounting concerns about student loan debt are now fueled by rumors and hype surrounding sequestration and fiscal cliffhanging, and political fingers often seem to be pointing at us when we’ve been hit by the fallout of the public’s “no confidence vote” in Congress and the very real challenges of our own institutional fiscal cliffs. In the meantime, families continue to wade through the mire of financial aid, their confusion feeding their growing mistrust.
A recent NerdScholar survey quoted in the U.S. News and World Report “My Money” blog on March 4, 2013, reported that 85% of the almost 1,100 students interviewed were “worried” about their financial aid being cut and 25% said they would rather “drop out of school than ask parents for help or take out private loans.” Note the extreme overreaction – no one knows exactly how college costs will be affected, yet students are already talking about dropping out.
What to do? Is it incumbent upon the financial aid office to improve its own image? Can our image be turned around with a few well-placed ads? Not likely. What about our internal and political positioning? Do our administrative and academic peers understand the importance of our role, or have we been elbowed away from the table? Do our legislators have any direct knowledge that we are doing our part to keep costs down and improve graduation rates? Can broken trust be rebuilt?
In their 2006 book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, Steven Covey and Rebecca Merrill explain, “Low trust causes friction . . . low trust is the greatest cost in life and in organizations, including families. Low trust creates hidden agendas, politics, interpersonal conflict, interdepartmental rivalries, win-lose thinking, defensive and protective communication— all of which reduce the speed of trust. Low trust slows everything— every decision, every communication, and every relationship.”
Sound familiar? He goes on to say that it takes both character and competence to build trust, and that trust can indeed be rebuilt. That’s good news! Covey suggests that we must follow thirteen specific behaviors that build and restore trust. In the realm of financial aid, it’s easy to see where some of these steps could be difficult but critically important, particularly the first six:
Once we’ve done everything we can to rebuild trust within our community and our organization, it’s time to get the word out. Allen Howie, president of Idealogy Marketing and Design in New Albany, Indiana (idealogy.biz) has some practical advice and solid ideas for rebuilding trust. Remember to work with the office responsible for public and media relations on campus to coordinate responses and outreach.
Trust can be the most valuable aspect of our position in our community, our state, and our country. Once we’ve earned it, we need to protect it.
Leslie Turner is a freelance writer and has served as a financial aid counselor at Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, Indiana, since 2004. She has also worked IT as a communications and education specialist and as a private business analyst. She blogs at www.healthy50s.blogspot.com.
Publication Date: 3/29/2013